Africa is not a land of despair. It carries within it the keys to the world’s economic growth in the 21st century, with a far greater concentration of wealth, assets and potential than the Afro-sceptics will admit.
This confidence in Africa is neither naive nor unrealistic; it is supported by tangible factors that are already causing the buds of an African spring to blossom. But it is an African spring that must face many challenges that it would be unrealistic to deny or even minimise, if a new model of society is to be allowed to emerge.
Africa is not a land of despair. It carries within it the keys to the world’s economic growth in the 21st century, with a far greater concentration of wealth, assets and potential than the Afro-sceptics will admit. This confidence in Africa is neither naive nor unrealistic; it is supported by tangible factors that are already causing the buds of an African spring to blossom. But it is an African spring that must face many challenges that it would be unrealistic to deny or even minimise, if a new model of society is to be allowed to emerge. There are many issues to be dealt with and much work to be done, but the overall movement is under way.
While Europe will probably narrowly escape recession in 2012 and the United States will have to be satisfied with a 2.1% increase in GDP, African growth, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will be between 5.3% and 5.4%. This performance proves the dynamism of the African economies despite the global economic crisis, and puts the continent ahead of some countries of the BRICS group: Brazilian growth will be in the region of 3% and that of Russia 3.3%.
These are figures, however, that cannot be allowed to mask the gigantic economic problems of the African continent nor the abject poverty in which millions of its inhabitants live. Africa’s vigorous economic growth is indeed encouraging but it is still insufficient (and too uneven across the continent) to consolidate the upward curve of development in a sustainable way. Nevertheless, there are serious grounds for optimism for the future.
The first reason for hope is global. In the globalised economy we are living in today, the markets desperately need catalysts of growth to keep the economy going. For twenty years or more, the Asian economies acted as “catalysts of growth,” followed for the last decade by a number of South American economies (led by Brazil).
These growth drivers, which are boosting the global economy, will inevitably slow down as they develop; this is the fault of (or rather, thanks to) the global increase in the populations’ standard of living and the subsequent rise in labour costs.
The frontier markets valued by the traders for their high yields, to adopt the terminology of the financial analysts, are by nature designed to evolve and change and in all probability Africa will be the next frontier market of the global economy. Though this factor may seem somewhat theoretical, it is actually very real and when investors are attracted towards a sector or a region, it is a much more reliable indicator of development than the doom and gloom peddled by the politicians.
Furthermore, despite the immense political and social problems that repeatedly afflict Africa, it is nevertheless very significant to note that there have never before been so many international investors willing to take a bet on Africa. This definitely goes to show that it is not so great a risk as some commentators suggest.
And it is very interesting to note that these investors are no longer recruited solely among the post-colonial “private preserves” but from all over the world and that international companies are investing in Africa without political agendas, in the same way as in other regions of the world. It is no coincidence that there is growing interest on the part of private investors from the BRICS group or North America, a phenomenon that could even expand in the future.
The financial sector has also got its eye on Africa. And these investments are beneficial overall to the continent, even if it is currently fashionable to denounce the “speculators” (who invest particularly in the mining resources of the continent): they enable the real economy to be financed and competitive sectors to be created that African governments do not have the resources to support.
These investments are positive signals demonstrating the attractiveness of the African continent: the world of finance does not get involved in politics or in the charitable sector. While investments made by these international groups must certainly be subject to stringent negotiations with the States concerned, they do constitute possible levers for growth and development.
However independent it may be of political ups and downs, the African economy needs to be able to rely on strong public, independent and integrated public institutions. The issue of the mining concessions offers a perfect example: if foreign investment is necessary, government intermediaries must defend national interests to the hilt. Unfortunately this is not always the case.
A new and long-concealed phenomenon is taking its place increasingly forcefully in the field of African international relations. This is the emergence and strengthening of a political Africa, through regional organisations (AU, ECOWAS, ECA and SADC). These organisations have enabled the African States to join forces and reduce their deficiencies; they now play a central role in resolving many crises, political tensions and conflicts.
We are seeing a genuinely new diplomatic order which the Western powers and the United Nations will certainly have to get used to:
despite their imperfections, the African mechanisms of mediation are often proving to be more effective than the European or American envoys and their influence is continuing to grow.
Why? First of all because Africa is — perhaps unconsciously — in the process of leaving post-colonialism behind and the actors in the various crises affecting the continent find it preferable to engage in relations of trust and dialogue with African envoys, who, furthermore, are usually former Heads of State or at the very least, recognised and respected political figures (Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, Alpha Konaré, etc.).
Furthermore, these negotiators understand the issues and subtleties of African power relationships and consequently do not try to impose standardised rules based on Western canons which have often proved unsuited to the realities on the ground and to the needs of the parties concerned.
But this element alone is not enough to explain the emergence of a political Africa. If Africa is becoming increasingly heavily involved as an independent political force, it is because more and more African Heads of State have recognised the stabilising power of the regional institutions and the role that they can play.
For these States with their extremely limited resources, the regional organisations provide the opportunity to pool resources and authority which is proving crucial and creating a virtuous circle of responsibility: the reinforcement of the institutions is regarded in each member country as a guarantee of stability, providing the possibility of assistance.
The example of the crisis in Mali certainly shows this state of mind. It is no coincidence that the President of Cote d’Ivoire (current chair of ECOWAS) became personally involved in moving matters forward and played a key role in the negotiations which led the military junta to give up power and begin the transition to a return to democratic order.
Alassane Ouattara, who came to power in Côte d’Ivoire in circumstances of which we are all aware, more than any other Head of State in the region has an interest in ensuring that ECOWAS is firmly involved in safeguarding the respect of the principles of the rule of law and that the agitators who believe that African regimes can still be destabilised by shifting the balance of power are discouraged.
The UN, the Western powers, but also the African elite, must take cognizance of this emerging power which is making progress despite certain frictions and its cumbersome bureaucratic processes. It nevertheless remains essential to support the African organisations in their efforts to achieve stabilisation. The political strengthening of Africa is an absolute prerequisite to the blossoming of an African spring.
If wealth consisted of people, Africa would enjoy a supply that exists nowhere else in the world. Although the great number of young people in African societies (half of the total population of sub-Saharan Africa is under 25) is an ambivalent factor that creates many problems, nevertheless, this vitality represents a considerable asset for the future.
The issue of African youth lies at the heart of matters that are crucial to the future of the African continent. Naturally, it brings with it many challenges, some of which currently seem insuperable. It would be ridiculous to ignore these realities, the first and most terrible of which is the mass unemployment of young people everywhere. These young people, born in the huge cities of the continent or children of the rural exodus, are totally defenceless in societies which do not generate sufficient employment for them to take their place in it.
Young people, many of whom are educated and trained, are now dependent for their survival on family solidarity and support. They can see no prospect of emancipation, the indispensable first step to setting up a home and stepping into the natural cycle of responsibilities. Without work, there can be no emancipation: unemployment damages the traditional structures of family and authority and engenders completely justified despair, which goes a long way towards explaining the desire to emigrate or to become engaged in fundamentalist activity.
And what is true for the African population as a whole is, alas, also true for the elite of the continent. Renewal at the top, whether it is a question of state machinery or great economic and financial entities, is slow and difficult. Once again, the younger generation are struggling to find their place and to promote modern and innovative points of view against the attitudes of the old party bosses. The generations in place are hiding behind the screen of respect for tradition in order to block any impulses the youth might have to take power.
However — and this is in itself a strong reason for hope — the majority of the young African elite are remarkably capable. Unlike their predecessors, often educated in the universities of the former colonial powers and torn by the cultural contradictions between old and new Africa, the new African elites have been educated in the heart of the village-world.
Knowing the difficulties and realities of their country, having been educated all over the world, and having even spent all or part of their career in big international companies, they have a new and modern approach to the situation in Africa. Now they have to make a place for themselves.
However, the successful integration of young Africans, from every walk of life, is not an unrealistic prospect. Boosted by growth that will continue to accelerate in the years to come and included in a strengthened political framework, the members of the younger generation hold the key to their own destiny. The change has already begun. Having spoken at length with young Africans, I can confirm that they want to go home. It is up to the political leaders to create the conditions for their enthusiastic and permanent return, following the example of certain countries like Morocco or South Africa.
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